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Spilling the bean

The great poet T S Eliot is known to have said, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

Though India is largely presumed to be a tea drinking nation, recent studies conducted by the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) in 2012 show that coffee consumption has steadily grown over the years. According to the ICO data, while in 2001 the country consumed about 1.02 million bags of coffee, in 2010 this number touched 1.71 million bags of 60 kg each and in 2011-12 the coffee consumption in our country went up by 3 per cent.

India is the world’s sixth biggest exporter of coffee and the growth in coffee consumption in India is even more than the global rate.
After all these mind boggling figures let us direct our attention towards the beginning of mankind’s affair with coffee. Legend has it that Kaldi, an Ethiopian goatherd, noticed the effect of the coffee beans on his goats who ‘danced’ from one shrub to the other after grazing on the cherry-red beans. History informs us that in Africa, some tribes ate coffee alongside balls made of animal fat to boost energy.
Coffee as we know it today was first brewed around 1300 AD in Arabia. It was a beverage that got a nod from Islam where drinking alcohol was prohibited. The rise of Islam can be said to be a great contributor to the spread of coffee. Wherever it went, coffee travelled as well and reached North Africa, eastern Mediterranean and India. A merchant from Venice introduced coffee to the Europreans in 1615. In 1696 a colonial coffee plant, maybe the first one, was founded in Java. Gradually coffee reached Brazil where it became a coffee empire and moved to the hands of the common man from the elite.

Despite its reach across the globe, coffee was banned in 1675 by the King of England who claimed that coffee houses were places where people gathered and met to conspire against him.
The coffee tree can grow to be 30 feet tall but is generally cultivated to be around 10 feet for easy picking of the berries. These are dried and stripped down until all that is left is a green bean . The bean is then roasted at a high temperature for a few minutes when it pops and doubles in size and then pops again indicating that it is now ready to be ground into powder. The heat sparks a chemical reaction in the bean that turns its carbohydrates and fats into aromatic oils, further unlocking the flavour as the moisture and carbon dioxide present in it are burnt.
Today as more and more coffee shops come into business we are introduced to many variants of coffee. India’s first specialist coffee shop, Cafe Coffee Day opened in 1996 and today has 1,350 cafes all across India. Once there was simply Espresso — the name given to a method of preparing coffee where hot, pressurised water is shot through the finely ground coffee — which was a rare treat at weddings.

Today there are options like latte, mocha, Americano, breve and cappuccino to choose from.
Scientists have been studying the health benefits of coffee. Studies suggest that coffee consumption reduces the risk of certain cancers, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and may help fight some heart conditions. Caffeine also acts as an acute antidepressant.
Here is the recipe for the perfect coffee by French statesman Talleyrand according to whom it should be ‘black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel and sweet as love.’

(The blog post appeared as an article first in The New Indian Express on February 8, 2012. You can read it here-


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